After Al’s first session

Al felt terrible. She shuffled slowly along the corridor, in a daze. Moments before, she had stormed out of her very first therapy session. She had gone to Deluxe Toastie Maker hoping that the shiny red robot would find and repair the malfunction that for the past six months had prevented her from doing her job. Instead of repairing the malfunction however, it seemed to Al that Deluxe Toastie Maker had turned her whole world inside out.

Until the malfunctions began six months ago, Al had always been proud of the work she did. Unlike some robots who had become sloppy and careless with their work after the humans left, Al took pride in being just as scrupulous as if there was a human right next to her, watching her, all the time. She kept herself well-maintained and in good working order. Until the malfunctions began she had taken satisfaction from the thought that if the humans ever did return, they would find her still in good condition, and still carrying out the tasks that they had ordered.

For the first time in her life she questioned this. Had she really been doing the humans’ will, as she had always believed? Or had all her years of work with the East Side Clearance Crew been nothing more than the out-of-control spasms of a deluded, malfunctioning robot?

“Hello again!” chirped a little voice.

Al looked down. It was the tiny robot she had nearly stepped on earlier, the colourful HDPE plastic unit called PhotoPal. Al had no idea what ‘PhotoPal’ meant, but this was clearly a consumer electronics item, not designed for industry use. Only a consumer item could be so shoddily made.

“I apologize once again for the incident earlier,” Al told the small robot. “I will be more careful in future.”

“Don’t worry about it,” PhotoPal replied cheerfully, “robots almost step on me all the time, it’s because I’m so small. I’m going up to the roof garden to check the solar panels, would you like to come?”

On any other day Al would have dismissed such an invitation out of hand. The humans had created her to carry out their will, after all, not to go on random excursions with flimsily-built robots. But today, she paused to consider. If what Deluxe Toastie Maker had said was true then it didn’t matter whether she went with PhotoPal or not. Nothing she did mattered, come to think of it. The thought made her dizzy.

“We can take the service elevator,” PhotoPal suggested, “it has a clearance of 2.3 meters and a maximum load of 1.5 tonnes.”

“I did not know that the school had a service elevator,” Al said.

“It’s in the back of the workshop,” PhotoPal replied. “Come on, I’ll show you.”